While couples in Washington, D.C., seek to share in the joy of marriage, Focus on the Family is battling projecting onto those couples its own desire to put marriage — in Focus’ words — “on the chopping block.”

Instead of allowing healthy, loving, mature, and committed couples to marry, Focus on the Family wants voters to decide — through an illegal referendum — who should or shouldn’t marry, based on voters’ prejudices against sexual and religious minorities.

The effort to put civil social institutions and the private lives of Americans up for a vote reflects Focus on the Family’s disturbing contempt for individual freedom, religious liberty, family values, and national unity.

Even if one agrees that individual and religious liberty, and family values, should be damaged or destroyed in order to preserve a conservative cookie-cutter model of marriage for all, Focus’ model for marriage is unsettling.

Meet that model:

Frank and Anita WorthenFrank and Anita Worthen exemplify the “heterosexual” marriage that Focus on the Family upholds as a model for all gay Americans.

Frank Worthen is a sexually confused man living in a largely sexless marriage with Anita, a woman whose son (from a past boyfriend) is openly gay and living with AIDS.

For more than 20 years, both Worthens have made a living from selling the home remedy of religious conversion to so-called heterosexuality, despite Frank’s ongoing sexual confusion and the failure of Anita’s ex-gay ideology to convert her son.

Anita’s attitude is that her son is broken and requires fixing: She says, “I cannot fix your kid, but I know God can.” Anita ridicules parents who affirm their gay children; she asserts that the parental closet is healthier, saying: “The thing about Love Won Out that is so profound and wonderful is that there’ so many parents in pain. You can hide among the crowd. You don’t have to go and wear a big banner that says, ‘My son’ gay.'”

Meanwhile, Frank scapegoats a pastor in his teenage years for his homosexual attractions — even though friends and family were at least vaguely aware of his sexual orientation since kindergarten. Frank tells Focus on the Family that his own inept and sometimes irresponsible choices prior to age 44 are synonymous with “the gay life,” and he falsely claims to have “left homosexuality” regardless of his attractions.

While many gay Christians and their families choose a path of sexual honesty and religious integrity, the Worthens have chosen denial and obfuscation.

The Worthens, sadly, are Focus on the Family’s role models for Love Won Out conference attendees. And it is this kind of shallow ex-gay marriage-of-convenience that Exodus and Focus say is threatened by the prospect of gay people being allowed to marry.

Without wishing for any harm to come to the platonic friendship of the Worthens, I think their “marriage” serves as a warning of the price that heterosexual Christians may pay when they deny marriage to others — and then get stuck in arranged marriages to gay partners, marriages formed out of duty to one’s religious community and not marital love.